12 unmissable interior design tips – to style a house into a dream home

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When it comes to making a house feel like a home there's more than meets the eye. Pulling a room together and transforming the features to make it functional and stylish yet homely is not often an easy task.

From working out what paint works best in different rooms and lighting options to where to place furniture – there are so many elements to consider. That's where an interior designer's help and expertise becomes invaluable.

Whether you’re renovating an entire house, sprucing up the kitchen or adding a splash of colour to freshen up a living room – these helpful DIY and decorating pointers are not to be missed. Leading interior designer Vanessa Arbuthnott shares her designer tips and secrets to gain insider knowledge for transforming homes like a professional.

12 of the best interior design tips

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Nick Smith)

1. Make it your own

Remember it’s your home. 'There are no rights nor wrongs in interior design, everyone has the potential to design their own home,' says Vanessa Arbuthnott. (opens in new tab) 'It's just a matter of getting an eye for it. Remember that you are in control, taking the latest trends into account is worthwhile but always put your own personal spin on something to make it special. Your home is where you spend most of your time, so the space needs to reflect you.'

2. Seek design inspiration for a mood board

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Carolyn Barber)

'Transform your interiors from tired to revitalised by gathering inspirational images from magazines, Instagram (opens in new tab), Pinterest etc' Vanessa advises. 'Once you have a strong collection you will begin to see the look you would like to achieve. Creating a mood board is a great way to use your creativity to unleash any hidden design inspiration you may have subconsciously seen.'

Vanessa goes on to explain how she does this, 'Buy a large foam board and pins from your local art or stationary shop and collate samples, images, samples of the fabrics, wallpapers, furniture and flooring that you might want to use. This way you can see how they would all sit together within the room.' Stressing, ' it is important to add textures through flooring, rugs and fabrics such as velvet, wool, and tweed. Place the mood board in the room and live with it for a while.'

3. Consider colours and fabrics

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Dan Duchars)

'Start to hone in on the colours you want to use – for the painted walls or wallpaper, furniture, blinds and curtains. The third colour could be a highlight for cushions, lampshades, bed quilts and accessories such as a tablecloth or even a painting.'

Vanessa offers this brilliant top tip: three colours are always better than two – use these colours throughout the room.

4. Try before you buy paint and paper

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Dominic Blackmore)

'Remember that colours can change depending on lighting so buy sample pots and paint' Vanessa warns. 'Paint at least A2 sized paint patches, on the lightest and the darkest walls in the same room – to see how the natural light affects the shade.' This is especially effective for finding the best white paint, because it changes so much in the light.

Same goes for wallpaper, 'Tape wallpaper samples to the walls and drape large returnable samples over existing furniture or pin them to existing curtains and blinds. Stand back and see what you think!' she enthuses.

5. Transform old to new

(Image credit: Dulux)

'If you have a blank canvas it’s easier, but more often we must work with existing sofas or rugs etc. Look closely at the rug and see if you can work with the colours within it. Maybe you can reupholster the old favourite sofa to give it a new lease of life? Decide if you are someone who likes pattern or plain; traditional or contemporary; and look at a colour wheel or nature itself to see what colours go with what. For instance, pinks and reds with greens, orange with duck egg, yellows with grey and blues.

6. Size up the furniture

(Image credit: Future PLC/ Jon Day)

'Decide on the furniture you want in your room. Think about scale, in a large room you need a big sofa and footstool' Vanessa advises. 'Most designers recommend that even small rooms should have one large statement piece, even if it is a headboard in a bedroom. A balance of large and small pieces will create an appealing living space.'

7. Analyse the look and take your time

(Image credit: Future)

'Collect pieces as you come across them, this way you will purchase things you’ve fallen in love with. Rather than settling for what’s available in certain stores or online at the time you need something' are Vanessa's wise words. 'You can spend time analysing the look and colours of your room with accessories. The more time you take to add things into your house, your interior design knowledge will expand as you can understand what works best with certain features.'

8. Order returnable samples

'Once you have narrowed your choice right down and have a good idea of what you might want, order some returnable samples' Vanessa reveals. 'These are half metres of fabric which works best draped over backs of chairs and pined to existing curtains and blinds. The test will see if you're still happy with them after a few days. This is also a great way to see how fabrics look against the paint colours.'

9. Be bold with paint ideas

(Image credit: Future PLC/Future PLC)

The days of strict paint rules are over, the key to interior design in modern times is to embrace the paint idea that works for you. There are no rules of painting doors frames, skirting boards and ceilings in a brilliant white anymore – in fact some top interior designers argue against it! Kelly Hoppen' s advice for painting skirting boards is a game changer, she explains how painting the skirting the same same colour as the walls can help to make the room feel bigger.

10. Remember measuring is key

(Image credit: Future PLC/Vanessa Arbuthnott)

'Decision time happens when you measure up your windows.' Ensure you have the correct measurements before you even think about ordering blinds or curtains in particular rooms. Read more on that here: What not to do when choosing curtains – from measuring to styling all is revealed.

11. Add finishing touches

'The finishing touches are the fun bit!' Vanessa exclaims. 'Lampshades, rugs, cushions, paintings and plants can all make a huge difference, but are sometimes hard to choose until you have the walls painted or papered and curtains hanging. Even the colours on the spines of books in a bookshelf, a throw on the back of the sofa, or in a kitchen ceramic, tablecloths, create opportunities for accents of colour.'

12. Fill a room with a signature fragrance

(Image credit: Future PLC/David Brittain)

Take note from hotel-style and give your home a signature scent, it's incredible how much this can transform your home. Luxury hotels with select a key scent to have throughout, which then becomes associated with that place – adopt this by choosing your own signature smell for home, to engage the scenes. There's no place like home, so ensure all your senses are alerted to the feeling of home the minute you step through the door. Use the best home fragrance for your via scented candles, diffusers and essential oils.

Be sure to make use of this wisdom for your next decorating project.

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2022 Cost to Furnish a House

Furnishing a House Cost Factors

Room Size and Layout

The size of your room and number of rooms impact cost. For example, a small two-seater sofa in a 500-square foot living room is not practical for a family of four. You’d be better off with a fuller sofa or sectional to fill the space.

If you have tall, arched windows, you may require custom-made window treatments. For non-standard room shapes, furniture may need to be bespoke, and the cost of custom furniture averages around $2,575.

Furniture Quality

The quality of the furnishings you select will have a significant impact on your overall spend. Finding a balance between budget pine furniture and high-end mahogany will allow you to have quality pieces that won’t break the bank.


Factor delivery costs into your budget, so you don’t have any nasty surprises. They can range from around $50 to $500 depending on the store, your location, the number and type of items and how quickly you want to receive them.

Shopping for large furniture items means you often have to pay the store a delivery charge or hire a vehicle to get them home. You can’t always bring furniture home on the day you buy it. You often have to order items like sofas, so hiring a van to get everything home at once may not be practical.


Flat-pack furniture can be less expensive than pieces already assembled, but assembly can be time-consuming and sometimes tricky—especially if you have a whole home to furnish.

If you don’t want this hassle, some companies and stores offer a furniture assembly service. The average cost for furniture assembly is $110 or $55 per hour, but you could pay from $40 to $450. It depends on where you live, the store you have bought from, and how much furniture you have to assemble. Often you can hire a local handyperson for this type of work.

Single Supplier or Multiple Retailers

Opting to purchase the bulk of your furnishings with one supplier could work out cheaper than buying from multiple outlets. Some smaller companies may offer a discount for bulk purchasing, including free delivery. Buying from many retailers may make it more challenging to keep a handle on your budget, and you might incur additional delivery charges.

Cost to Hire a Decorating Pro

If you’re on a limited budget and buying from low-cost flat-pack stores, hiring an interior decorator may not be a worthwhile investment. If you have a large space and plan to fill it with high-quality furnishings, the cost to hire an interior designer could be worth it. They’ll help you make the most of your space and can sometimes secure discounts through their network of suppliers.

Interior designers typically charge $50 to $200 per hour for their services. Interior designers charge less—up to $150 per hour—but their focus is on decorative elements and furnishings rather than design and function.


What items are considered furnishings?

When budgeting for furnishings, it isn’t just about actual pieces of furniture. You’ll also need window treatments, soft furnishings (cushions, throws, bedspreads), rugs, lighting, and artwork.

Appliances and utensils aren’t part of this cost guide, but some experts would also wrap them up under this term. The definition of furnishings often relates to anything not permanently attached to your house cabinets, fireplaces, or built-in wardrobes).

How can I save money on home furnishings?

There are many ways you can reduce the cost of furnishing your home if you’re on a limited budget. Search online classifieds, thrift stores, and yard sales for high-quality items at deep discounts. Purchasing items during seasonal sales can also save you, on average, 25 to 50%.

You can even upcycle second-hand goods that aren’t in the best condition to give them a fresh look. Although, be aware that the cost to reupholster furniture, for example, can be more expensive than buying something new.

You don’t have to furnish your whole house at once either. If you have more than one bedroom but don’t have children, there isn’t a rush to fill the spare room. If you normally have TV dinners on the sofa, then don’t purchase a dining room set just yet.

Is it worth hiring a painter to decorate the space?

Painting is one of the most affordable ways to decorate and transform a space in your home. The average cost to paint a room is between $2 and $6 per square foot. The cost to paint an average ten-by-twelve-foot room ranges from $200 to $800, including professional labor. If you choose to DIY it, this can cost between $100 to $300 and could take you anywhere from a few hours to a few days to complete the job.

Maryan Barbara
Maryan Barbara

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